Perhaps you’ve heard that old rumor from your high school gym teacher, or maybe one of your weightlifting buddies about squats being an exercise to avoid. Naysayers claim its an exercise that’ll ruin your knees; that’ll have you walking around like a cripple by the time you’re 45. Well, gone are the days that people can get away perpetuating that rumor. In fact, there is research that dates back to 1989 done by Auburn University that not only exonerates squats from this misdoing, it actually proved that regular squatting improved knee stability, strengthened connective tissue, and made connective tissue tighter and stronger than those who don’t squat. More recently, physiologists at the Mayo Clinic have found that squats actually place less stress on your knees than leg extensions – an exercise often prescribed as a ‘knee-saving’ alternative to squats. Now that we’ve debunked the only known negative of squatting, let’s dive into some of the benefits of squats.
The Benefits of Squats
1. Squats Create An Anabolic Environment. No other exercise on the planet (with the possible exception of the deadlift) does more to promote overall muscle growth. This means, not only will the squat build muscles directly related to the exercise itself – like your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves – it also indirectly promotes muscle growth across the rest of your body, in places like your biceps, chest, and back (for examples).
“You get greater overall muscle and strength gains from the squat than from any other exercise… Squats create an overall anabolic environment in the body that maximizes gains from other exercises [in your workout],” says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut.
2. Maintain Mobility. Researchers at Ball State University say that leg strength is critical for maintaining mobility as we age. There’s no better exercise at maintain and increasing leg strength than the squat.
3. Increase Functional Strength. Very few exercises are as natural as the squat. Since the very beginning of time, man has been squatting down to pick berries, gather food, light fires, and even cook. It makes sense than that the squat builds pure, functional strength. Not only do they build huge amounts of muscle, the squat also forces your body’s nerve networks to work your muscles more efficiently.
4. Increase Your Vertical Jump. A variation of the traditional squat, jump squats have been proven to increase your vertical jump by about 30 percent in a period as little as 8 weeks.
5. Increase Sprint Times. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study in 2002 that stated squatting allowed participants in the study to increase their sprint times by a significant degree. The correlation between speed and strength is thought to play a big role in this.
6. Entire Body Workout (almost). There is arguably no other exercise that works more muscles than the squat. If you were only to do one exercise for the rest of your life, the squat would make an excellent choice.
7. Growth Hormones and Testosterone. These anabolic hormones are vital for muscle growth, and the squat stimulates your body to produce these more than any other exercise. Want bigger biceps? Add squats to your routine.
8. Sports and Performance. Not only will it make you jump higher and sprint faster, as I mentioned above, it will make you stronger and more explosive no matter what your particular sport is. It’s no wonder squats are part of the regular training regimen of every professional athlete.
9. Increase Upper Body Strength. Due to the large amounts of growth hormone and testosterone released by squatting, your upper body will grow larger and stronger than it would had you not regularly implemented squats into your workouts.
10. Tone and Tighten Your Butt. I implore you to find an exercise that’ll give you a nicer looking rear-end than the squat. Don’t believe me? Go give it a try yourself.
11. Improve Balance. As we age, nerve endings and connective tissue degenerate naturally. Squats have been proven to improve the communication between your brain and your body’s major muscle groups, and improve muscle memory. This carries into your later years and goes a long way in preventing falls and broken hips.
12. Prevent Injuries. Nearly 90% of athletic injuries involve the weaker stabilizer muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. By using a free standing compound exercise that requires good balance (aka, the squat), you’ll do a lot to reduce the risk of injury.
13. Multi-Purpose. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beanpole and want to bulk up, or if your shape more closely resembles that of a bean itself and you want to slim down, the squat is absolutely necessary if you’re serious about your goal.
14. Gain Flexibility. If you ever want proof that weight training doesn’t reduce flexibility and won’t make you muscle bound, the squat is it. Give squats a go for a couple of months, you’ll definitely feel the difference in flexibility.
15. They’ll Give You Great Abs. If you’ve got a body fat percentage that’s low enough, and you squat regularly, you’ll quickly find that you have no need to do a lot of work on your abs. In fact, some of the best sets of abs I’ve ever seen have been the product of squats, and squats alone.
*Important Note* – Don’t do squats if you don’t plan on using proper technique. This is how you injure yourself; this is how you get bad knees. Take the time to learn how to squat, and start by using only the bar with no additional weight. Only once you’ve mastered your technique should you begin progressing with weights.